OSHKOSH, Wis. – The Navy's first African-American aviator to fly in combat was calm when he crashed his plane in North Korea in 1950 and didn't complain even though he was pinned under flaming wreckage and facing certain death, his would-be rescuer recalled Wednesday.
Thomas Hudner Jr., now the only living naval aviator recipient of the Medal of Honor from the Korean War, crash-landed his plane to try to help his wingman, Ensign Jesse Brown, who had just gone down behind enemy lines.
"When I approached him after getting on the ground there was no indication of desperation or despair in any way," Hudner, 87, of Concord, Mass., said in an interview Wednesday, after recounting the story at the Experimental Aircraft Association's annual convention in Oshkosh.
"As a matter of fact, under the circumstances he gave me consolation rather than the other way around."
After the forum, Hudner signed autographs and shook hands while wearing his medal. The convention, which runs through Sunday, typically gets more than a half million visitors from around the nation and world.
Hudner crash-landed his own plane after Brown went down in the snowy, mountainous terrain near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. Brown was pinned in, and Hudner and the helicopter pilot who later arrived couldn't free him.
Night was falling and the helicopter wasn't equipped to fly in the dark, so Hudner had to leave with the pilot or he would have faced certain death in subzero temperatures.
"When I saw that it was a completely hopeless situation under the circumstances I told Jesse that we had to get some more equipment in order to get him out of the cockpit and he said to me, `If anything happens to me tell my wife, Daisy, how much I love her.' And he was very much in love with his wife. In love, very much."
Hudner wrote her a letter, telling her Brown's last words. Hudner said he also met Brown's wife four months later at the Medal of Honor ceremony and was struck by her strength.
"How she did it without breaking down in any way I don't know," he said.